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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 7, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp © Max Fleischer‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is the last of three Popeye two-reelers in Technicolor.

Like ‘Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor’ (1936) and ‘Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves’ (1937) the short has a clear 1001 Arabian Nights setting. In fact, it’s a rather faithful retelling of the classic fairy tale, until Spinach comes along. Unlike the earlier two-reelers ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ doesn’t either feature Fleischer’s table-top technique, Wimpy or Bluto, with an anonymous villain taking Bluto’s place.

The film is introduced as being a script Olive is writing for ‘Surprise Pictures’, and, of course, she herself stars as the princess. It’s the first scene in which we can hear Margie Hines as Olive Oyl’s voice. Hines had replaced Mae Questel, who didn’t make the move to Miami together with the rest of the Fleischer studio. Margie Hines would remain Olive’s voice until the end of 1943, after which Mae Questel picked it up again.

‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is wonderfully made. Its background art is no less than gorgeous, and some of the animation is outstanding, for example that on Popeye’s horse. The final battle is a delight, when Popeye uses cans of spinach as his own magic against the magic of the lamp, now in the villain’s hands.

The film contains a novelty: in the cave scene and in the scene in which Popeye parades the streets as a prince, he suddenly has eyes with pupils, foreshadowing his design of the Paramount studio years.

Watch ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 27, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Wimpy
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Customers Wanted © Max FleischerIn 1937 the Fleischer Studio suffered a severe strike. In 1938 they moved their studios to Miami, Florida to break up union activity, and because of the state’s more favorable financial climate.

The new studio opened in October 1938, and devoted a lot of its resources to the Fleischer’s first feature film, ‘Gulliver’, which was released at the end of 1939.

The move to Florida had several consequences for the Popeye series: as the studio’s top animators now worked on ‘Gulliver’, the series was laid in hands of some lesser men, and this shows in many 1939 Popeye cartoons. More importantly, there were some voice changes: Mae Questel and Gus Wickie (Bluto’s voice) had stayed behind in New York, so Olive’s voice was taken over by Margie Hines, who would do her voice until the end of 1943. Bluto’s voice was now done by Pinto Colvig, whom the Fleischers had hired away from Disney. Jack Mercer, Popeye’s voice, got along very well with Margie Hines – in fact the two were married on March 8, 1939.

The move may have had a particular impact on ‘Customers Wanted’, for this cartoon is a ‘cheater’: it only partially features new material, some scenes are reused from two earlier Popeye cartoons, albeit in the most natural way.

‘In ‘Customers Wanted’ Popeye and Bluto as competing arcade owners at a Coney Island-like amusement park. They’re both out of customers, and dive on Wimpy, when he seems interested.

The competing entrepreneurs are so eager to show Wimpy their films on their mutoscopes, they don’t even charge him money. The mutoscope films are excerpts from ‘Let’s Get Movin” (1936) and ‘The Twisker Pitcher’ (1937). Soon, however, Bluto’s and Popeye’s competition turns into a fight, and it’s Wimpy who cashes in by advertising their row as ‘the fight of the century”.

‘Customers Wanted’ is an early compilation cartoon, but a very entertaining one. Bluto’s and Popeye’s tricks to lure Wimpy away from the competition are delightful, and so are the voices. The amusement park itself is beautifully designed, and is reminiscent of the futuristic fair of ‘All’s Fair at the Fair‘ (1938).

Watch ‘Customers Wanted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Customers Wanted’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Directors: Robert Zemeckis (live action) & Richard Williams (animation)
Release Date: June 22, 1988
Stars: Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman, Bob Hoskins, Jessica Rabbit, Christopher Lloyd, Yosemite Sam, Dumbo, Hyacinth Hippo, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Betty Boop, Goofy, Droopy, Tweety, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Koko the Clown, Pinocchio, Woody Woodpecker, Pete, Porky Pig a.o.
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Who-Framed-Roger-Rabbit © Touchstone PicturesVery rarely a film comes out that raises great expectations, but also lives up to it. ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is such a picture.

Brought to us by golden team of film entertainment professionals, producing company Walt Disney, executive producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ stands among the great fantasy films of the 1980s.

More importantly, however, it heralded a renaissance in the animation world after ca. 20-25 dark years, in which animation got cheaper, lousier, more commercial and more and more directed at kids. ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ showed that once there was a golden age of animation, in which animation was impressive, massively funny and directed at adults. The film clearly pays homage that period. For example, the Baby Herman cartoon with which the film starts, combines Disney-like elongated prop-gags with Tex Averyan takes and Tom & Jerry-like cartoon violence. Indeed, Tom & Jerry seem to be the cartoon’s biggest influence with its household setting, fast pacing and violent takes on Roger.

The film renewed the attention for the golden age (roughly 1930-1955) and spawned a new era, in which Disney found inspiration again. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is one of the least typical Disney-features Disney ever made, and the introduction of Warner Bros./MGM-like cartoon humor was a great injection for the company, resulting in genuinely fast and funny animation in its own features, most notably in ‘Aladdin’ (1992) and ‘Hercules’ (1997).

Moreover, in the age following the movie, TV-animation suddenly got interesting (Nickelodeon with series like Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life, Cartoon Network with series like Cow & Chicken and Dexter’s Laboratory), and animation returned to evening television, aimed at adults (The Simpsons, Duckman, South Park). For people like me, who had grown up in the deserts of 1970s and 1980s this change in perception of what animation was and could be was very welcome, and in my perception it all began with this film.

‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is not only a milestone, however, it’s a hugely entertaining movie itself, with a strong plot and great scenes. The animation, led by Richard Williams, is pre-computer, but an enormous improvement on similar earlier films combining animation with live action (e.g. ‘The Three Caballeros‘, ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Elliott and the dragon’). Not only are the character animated very well, they’re staged stunningly fluently, following the camera, and they’re shaded like they are actually in the set, giving them a 3D quality like no cartoon character in a live-action setting ever had before.

This sense of the cartoon characters being in the same space as the actors is greatly helped by an endless string of very convincing special effects, using real props. For example the weasel gang leader handles a real gun, and when he splashes water, the water is real, too. Meanwhile, of course, the characters remain drawn on cells. To contemporary eyes there’s a great lesson here, in that cartoon characters needn’t be animated in 3D to get a real sense of existential body…

Part of the fun of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ of course, is the presence of several classic cartoon stars, coming from different animation studios and appearing for the first (and only) time together in one film. It’s a great pleasure to watch Disney characters (a.o. Donald and Mickey) appearing together with Warner Bros. characters (a.o. Daffy, Bugs, Tweety, Yosemite Sam), MGM (Droopy) and even from former Disney-rival Fleischer (Betty Boop, and for a brief moment Koko). Only Walter Lantz’s star Woody Woodpecker doesn’t get the screen time he deserves, and Popeye and Hanna & Barbera’s Tom & Jerry are notably absent. The fun is raised by the presence of two of the original voice talents, Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety & Porky Pig) and Mae Questel (Betty Boop).

However, the film’s own stars are hardly less entertaining. Roger Rabbit, voiced by Charles Fleischer, easily carries the film, and Jessica Rabbit is not only a female attraction, but a wonderfully subtle character, with great lines like ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way‘. The live action stars are equally strong, most notably Bob Hoskins, who brings a very subtle tragic edge to his cynical character Eddie Valiant, the film’s starring role.

The story has surprisingly critical overtones, with its plot circling around the loss of Los Angeles public transport in favor of freeways, something that really happened in the late 1940s (the showing of ‘Goofy Gymnastics‘ places the film’s time setting firmly in 1949). Judge Doom’s vision of what the freeway looks like is the film’s most cynical moment. Especially when his lifeless vision of commerce, cheapness and efficiency is placed against the loss of Toontown – symbol of fun, creativity and the extras of life.

In all, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is a great film, a classic which doesn’t fail to entertain. It was not the first film to blend cartoon stars in the real world (the idea is almost as old as animation itself, going all the way back to ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (who interacted with her creator Winsor McCay in a theater), or Fleischer’s Out of the inkwell films from the 1910s) – nor was it the last (less successful successors include ‘Cool World’ from 1992 and ‘Space Jam’ from 1996), but it is arguably the best in its kind. It’s questionable whether we’ll see a film like this again, as nowadays there’s a tendency of recreating cartoon characters in 3D, with ‘The Smurfs’ (2011) as the most appalling example.

Watch the trailer for ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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